Bortezomib sensitivity is tissue dependent and high expression of the 20S proteasome precludes good response in malignant pleural mesothelioma.

Cancer Management and Research 2019 September 24 [Link]

Walter RFH, Sydow SR, Berg E, Kollmeier J, Christoph DC, Christoph S, Eberhardt WEE, Mairinger T, Wohlschlaeger J, Schmid KW, Mairinger FD



Bortezomib is an approved proteasome inhibitor for the treatment of certain lymphoma subtypes. Two clinical trials investigated bortezomib in patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM) and failed to improve outcome. We present a potential explanation for this event.


171 patients with MPM were analyzed for their mRNA expression of proteasomal subunits PSMA1, PSMA5, PSMB1, PSMB2, PSMB4 and PSMB5 via qPCR (n=84) or sequencing (n=87 TCGA/cBioPortal data set “Mesothelioma”). Outcome and subunit expression were correlated. Four mesothelial and one fibroblast cell line were treated with bortezomib and cisplatin. Cellular response was measured after 0, 6, 12, 24, 48 and 72 hrs. Enzyme activity of proteasomal subunits was assessed via functional enzyme activity assays.


Patients with MPM presented with elevated expression of proteasomal subunits compared to benign controls (p<0.001). PSMB4 correlated with outcome (Cox propotiortional-hazards model (COXPH): p<0.0175, TCGA/cBioPortal data). In cell lines, apoptosis was the main event with a peak after 48 hr incubation for bortezomib or cisplatin. Only two cell lines with comparably low proteasome activity (PSMB2 and PSMB5) responded to 50 nM and 100 nM bortezomib better than to cisplatin (MRC-5, NCI-H2052). MSTO-211H responded to cisplatin only, whereas the other two cell lines were considered therapy resistant (Met-5A, NCI-H2452).


Two clinical trials testing bortezomib in MPM failed, although MPM presents with high proteasome expression, which predicts bortezomib sensitivity in several tumors. Bortezomib induced apoptosis in MPM cell lines with low proteasome activity only. Bortezomib is not suitable for the treatment of MPM, and biomarker-based stratification could have improved both clinical trials.